A Brief History

Early History of Coldwater
(Excerpt from the Coldwater Journal on celebrating Coldwater’s 75th anniversary)

Original Article published on June 29th, 1983 Issue 155 Volume 4.

Coldwater’s first settlers came to the area in the mid 1700’s.  Coldwater is said to be the second oldest community in Ontario with Penetanguishene being the oldest.  The Coldwater Road is known to be over 400 years old; there is a monument between Price’s Corners and Warminster dedicated to the Coldwater Road.  

Coldwater was known to the Ojibway Indians as GIS-SI-NAUSE-BING meaning “Cold River” or “Cold Water”.  The Village was once close to the headquarters of the most civilized of the Algonquin nations.  It was near Coldwater that battles were fought which turned Upper Canada from an outpost of France when that nation was expanding its empire to a British colony.

About 150 years ago Ojibway Chief Aisance lived on land here which white men at one time valued at only 5 cents an acre.  Coldwater was the scene of a cholera epidemic in 1832 and was once the headquarters of a 9,800-acre Indian reserve.  The compelling beauty of the village attracted captains of industry, small merchants and scores of others over the years.  Once it was the location of a thriving lumber industry.

Local Territory was included in 250,000 acres, which on November 17th, 1815 were obtained by the British government for 4,000 pounds when Ojibway chiefs Kinaybicionini (Snake) Aisance and Misquuckkey (Yellowhead) signed a treaty.

Five years later, in 1820 the land, which was later to become Medonte Township within the boundaries of which Coldwater is situated today, was surveyed by James G. Chewett.  Two years previous he had made the first survey of the Welland Canal.

Cowan, a fur trader had been engaged since 1778 in dealings with the Indians across Matchedash Bay from Fesserton.  

In the late 1820’s military authorities recognized the advantages of using the water transport route from Holland Landing to Orillia then by portage to Coldwater and proceeding by water to Penetanguishene.  

As a result in 1830, Lieutenant Gov. Sir John Colbourne gathered the 500 Indians of the three bands of Ojibwas in this district along with a band of Pottawattamie which had come from Drummond Island, in to a 9,800-acre reserve stretching from Coldwater to the Narrows at Orillia.

Coldwater was the headquarters for Chief Aisance, Chief Yellowhead and based at Orillia, Chief Snake at Snake Lake.

Starting in 1828, the government built at Coldwater a mill, store and school, and dwellings for Indian families at every mile along the Coldwater Road to the Narrows.

The only whites allowed on the reservation were those connected with the Indian Agency in charge of Thomas Gummersal Anderson.  He had been a fur trader on the Mississippi River and its tributaries until the war of 1812 – 1814.  After the war he was placed on the staff of the Indian Department and lived in Drummond Island.  When this island passed into the hands of the United States in 1828, Captain Anderson became superintendent of Indian Affairs.  He died in 1827 in his 97th year. 

In spite of the cholera outbreak of 1832 curbed by Coldwater’s first surgeon, Dr. Darling, the Indians made rapid progress in the white man’s arts.

Contrasting the laziness and excessive drinking of some of the white residents the Indians, to the dismay of some of the traders were becoming sober and industrious and attending Methodist meetings.

Rich lands held by the Indians in their reserve became the envy of the white men.

In 1836, his first year in office, Sir Francis Bond Head, discontinued in Simcoe County the annual delivery of presents to the Indians and held it at Manitoulin Island, to induce the Indians to withdraw some distance from the white man.

The same course had been advocated by Sir John Colbourne.  Sir Francis did not look with favour on the Indian schools some at Coldwater, which had been established by missionaries and teachers.

At the instigation of the white settlers and the government, the 500 Indians on the reserve locally were, in 1838 divided between 1,600 acres in Rama Township for which they paid 800 pounds (the white settlers had abandoned it) and the isolated 2,712 acres of Beausoleil Island with its sandy mainly non-fertile land.

Two hundred and sixty-six of the Indians went to Beausoliel and later to Christian Island, under Coldwater’s Chief Aisance.  The remainder went to Rama.  Their original 9,800 acres of good land had been exchanged for less than half that amount and much of it was worthless.  
To read the rest of this article and to learn more about the history of Coldwater, visit the Coldwater Canadiana Museum and the Coldwater Heritage Mill, both just minutes from Mainstreet Coldwater.  More historic pictures are located in the Ice Cream Shoppe at 32 Coldwater Road.